What’s Speed Got To Do With It?

Most trainers know the speed at which you move (aka tempo) is a great way to manipulate Time Under Tension (TUT)

For example…Slow down and Slow up (with no pause at the top or bottom) will generate Constant Tension and maximise TUT. This works well at sub maximal loads and its great for hypertrophy.

But do you know how to develop speed, power or a BIG Squat, Bench Press or Dead Lift?

I suggest that you feel the need… the need for speed!

Generating great speed and force is the best way to overcome the inertia of the bar, smash through sticking points and move heavy weights.

When you Squat and Bench Press…the faster you drop down- the faster you can come back up.

An analogy I use to coach is a tennis ball. Our bodies are like a tennis ball, they store up elastic energy on the way down, which can be expressed on the way up. The harder you bounce the tennis ball, the faster it comes back up!

When you’re lifting…bouncing out of the hole and developing speed are two important skills that need to be developed.

Note: As the Dead Lift and Overhead Press starts from a ‘dead’ stop position and doesn’t get the benefit of the eccentric contraction the bounce wont be achieved (although good lifters have mastered the technique of ‘bombing’ down to the bar in the dead lift in order to elicit this reflex.)

Powerlifters, who are often times considered “slow” lifters, actually have the intention and ability to move the bar very fast. When you see them lifting max’s they are slow due to the massive loads (that eventually do slow them down), but at sub maximal weights they are very, very fast.

If you want to develop speed you need to focus on the “intention” of speed every rep you perform. That is you have the intention of trying to drive the bar through the roof!

Remember, its a skill. So how do we develop this skill of speed?

I recommend building these 4 separate modalities into you’re training for an explosive lift: plyometric’s, speed variations, pause variations and of course heavy lifts.

Skip just one and you won’t reach your full potential as each addresses a different component of the movement.

Plyometrics will serve to develop your rate of force development (RFD), and enhance your ability to accelerate the bar through sticking points.

For example… in a squat program you will employ box jumps, and depth jumps to enhance your RFD.

It’s critical when performing box jumps to focus on displacing your hips as high as possible, not just pulling your knees up to land on the box. You shouldn’t use a box that causes you to land in anything lower than a parallel squat, and make sure you land on the box softly on all reps.

Depth jumps are an extremely powerful training tool but are also very taxing to the body and nervous system, so they must be used strategically.

Speed variation’s

These are also called compensatory acceleration movements and will ingrain your technique, build your work capacity, and give you practice imparting maximal velocity to the bar.

These will be performed after your heaviest set of squats (or on a separate day) …and usually done on controlled rest periods to improve your general conditioning. (After all most strength athletes are averse to performing cardio.)

Its imperative that you always try to move the bar as fast as possible during these sets.

Think about trying to perform 1 rep per second. These sets are also the best time to perfect your technique, so while speed is critical, speed with optimal technique is even more important.

One of the most common errors made by people when lifting maximal loads is lowering the bar too slowly.

Most trainees are taught slow down/ slow up when the begin weight training which is great for learning and safety.

Some people actually warm up moving fast but but then put the breaks on during the heavy sets. (That’s often those dark voices inside your head telling you how heavy it is)

However if you need strength/power/speed you must attempt to bounce out of the hole and power up maximally.

This involves the following 3 steps

1- Get comfortable with rangeblogspeed3

You need to be able to achieve the positional demand of the lift and be comfortable there.

This may mean some mobility, active stretching and movement re-education.

Your brain wont let you body go to a place it doesn’t want to.

2- Get comfortable with weightblogspeed1

Get tight on the bar and practice unracking (thats where the battle physically begins) or spend some time at the bottom e.g. pause squats.

Just go to those places you feel least comfortable and start doing it while the weight is still (relatively) light.

3- Practiceblogspeed2

This technique is highly skilled so requires practice it. It starts from the top and doesn’t finish until your back at the top. Fast down = Fast up

Tip: bounce a tennis ball (and then be like it!)

Like a tennis ball we need to absorb the force created by the bar, our bodies and gravity and reuse that kinetic energy to get back up.

Practice this  during the lighter sets so you know you can do it when the weight gets heavier (and the voices start)

We can break speed into 2 groups- Speed Strength and Strength Speed.

Speed strength training involves around 60% 1RM at 1.5m/s

Strength speed training involves 70-80% 1RM at 1.0m/s.

(The speed of movement can be measured using a device like a Tendo-unit thus providing great instant feedback on performance)

Pause Reps.

Didn’t we just say you need to ‘bounce’ out of the hole?

Coming out of the hole is the most common place that raw lifters miss squats. To train the explosive strength qualities needed to improve this area of your squat, pause Squats and Bench Presses are a simple (but not easy) answer.

You can do pause squats with 7, 5 and 3-second pauses in the bottom position. These long pauses will teach you to “turn it on” coming out of the hole, while building strength in the hips and back.

What we are doing is dissipating some of that kinetic energy we were using in the ‘bounce’ and relying on our ability to switch on at the bottom recruiting using just muscular force. We call this Starting Strength.

Paused work will also teach your body to find its strongest position and improve your ability to replicate this position during regular squatting.

Heavy Squats

To squat big weights, you (of course) have to squat big weights! However, weight selection for your heavy work is critical – ensure that you never miss a rep!

Now theres nothing wrong when you are going for that max to fail on the lift..thats your time to push your limits but when you are training for that max you don’t need to go that heavy.

Making reps gets you stronger, missing them doesn’t so much.

You could argue that if you lift a weight at more than 100% you will increase the neuromuscular firing (a good thing) but thats at the expense learning how to successfully lift the weight and engraining a good motor pattern.

Not to mention you will squat slow and ugly!

You’ll be much better served to take 10-15 pounds off your training weights and dominating them.

In training its good to not be to greedy…and leave some for next week.

Being able to walk away from a training set of 3 reps and telling yourself that you could’ve done it for 5 will not only build strength without overtaxing your CNS, it will also build confidence – and confidence is extremely important when squatting huge weights.

So generate some speed and force, overcome the inertia of the bar, smash through sticking points and move heavy weights. If you add these 4 modalities into your training plan you will watch the numbers fly!